Commentary on Pac-12 developments on and off the field (and court) …
Rising: Pac-12 support for NIL
The latest news from the conference office, announced earlier this week, is an administrative move unlikely to make headlines or resonate with fans. With kickoffs just hours or days away, the focus is on the field.
But the decision to license Pac-12 Networks video to athletes for use in their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) opportunities could impact what we eventually see on the field.
That’s because NIL, which allows athletes to profit from promotional and endorsement opportunities, is now a critical piece of the recruiting and retention process.
The more effectively athletic departments help cultivate money-making partnerships for athletes, the more likely they are to land impact recruits. (NIL cannot be used as a recruiting inducement, per se. But potential opportunities are obviously a gigantic piece of the equation for top prospects.)
So what role can the Pac-12 play in the world of NIL? Well, the networks own immense amounts of video via game broadcasts and personal, behind-the-scenes footage.
The video could benefit any athlete attempting to secure NIL arrangements — it could be part of the pitch to potential business partners.
(The Pac-12 is the only major conference that wholly owns its network, and the only major conference that has taken this step. Will ESPN allow SEC athletes to use SEC Network video in their NIL pursuits? And what about Fox with regard to Big Ten athletes? It’s worth tracking.)
NIL is largely a local economic issue: Each school, each team, must work to maximize NIL opportunities — whether it’s the quarterback who participates in a charity golf tournament or the point guard who sponsors a pizzeria.
The conference is essentially a role player, but an important one: It must craft policies that support the campuses in NIL endeavors by any (legal) means possible.
The Pac-12 Networks were created to do exactly this — to sell the conference, to promote the schools and to benefit the athlete experience.
Falling: Nick Rolovich’s margin for error
Washington State’s second-year coach has been in the spotlight recently because of his refusal to get vaccinated — a decision that could cost Rolovich his job after the state mandated vaccination for education workers.
Now comes a second, unwanted klieg light:
Rolovich has been sued by former player Kassidy Woods for violating the receiver’s constitutional rights.
You might remember Woods. He left WSU last summer after alleging that his involvement in the #WeAreUnited movement and decision to opt out of the season jeopardized his standing on the team.
(A recorded conversation with Rolovich substantiates his case.)
How the legal process ends, we won’t begin to guess.
And how Rolovich handles the vaccine mandate, we won’t begin to guess.
Actually, we will guess on that one: Rolovich won’t get the vaccine by the Oct. 18 deadline, leaving him subject to termination.
So where does that leave the football program, which has endured a barrage of negative attention over the past six weeks — all of it created by Rolovich.
In our view, the end result is an exponential increase in pressure on Rolovich to win and an equivalent reduction in the university’s patience for Rolovich if he doesn’t win.
There are countless examples of athletes or coaches who run afoul of the law or bring embarrassment upon their employer. Invariably, the better they are, the more successful they are, the longer the leash.
And vice versa.
Rising: Pac-12 AD continuity
When news broke early last month that Michigan State needed a new athletic director, we wondered if the Pac-12 might lose one of its own.
UCLA’s Martin Jarmond worked for the Spartans for seven years and has additional ties to the Big Ten through his tenure at Ohio State. Arizona’s Dave Heeke is from East Lansing. Several others have roots in the eastern half of the country, and all of them would gladly accept $55 million in annual distributions from their conference office.
(By the middle of the decade, the Big Ten will be distributing more then $75 million each year to its schools.)
Turns out, only Jarmond became involved in MSU’s search process — and only to the extent that he turned down a chance to interview, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The specifics of the situation are less important here than the broader matter of continuity.
The Pac-12 athletic directors are as aligned as they have been in years — in part because of the unity forged by the pandemic, in part because of the leadership change atop the conference.
The ADs believe in new commissioner George Kliavkoff and are encouraged by his determination to work collaboratively with the campuses.
(In recent conversations with the Hotline, more than one campus source has described his/her AD as “more energized than I have seen in years.”)
This is a critical juncture for the conference:
Decisions made in the next six-to-nine months on football matters, media rights and NCAA governance will shape the Pac-12’s future.
The more continuity on the campuses, the better.
Falling: Normalcy for USC, UCLA
It was never going to be an old-normal season for Pac-12 football programs, but many could experience a new normal in 2021, thanks to the vaccines.
The Trojans and Bruins have been shoved into a category unto themselves after the latest L.A. County restrictions that maybe-possibly are based on some concoction of science and politics or were simply hijacked from the latest Tim Burton script.
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According to the L.A. Times, the new protocols “allow for vaccinated athletes exposed to COVID-19 to continue taking part in practice and competition as long as they remain asymptomatic and test negative for five consecutive days.”
So you’re deemed a close contact and you’re vaccinated and you’re asymptomatic and you’re playing an outdoor sport … and you have to test negative for five consecutive days?
Could someone please pass the bleach.
Both programs have vaccination rates on the high side of 98%, and both cut their COVID protocol teeth during the L.A. inferno of 2020.
But higher standards create more opportunity for roster depletion.
To that end, the Pac-12 was smart to give Kliavkoff the authority to rule on forfeitures on a case-by-case basis.
And it was smart to ask the collective to share the financial burden if one team’s COVID issues cause a cancellation.
Imagine the Trojans or Bruins doing everything right and losing their offensive line 48 hours before kickoff because of a COVID restriction that doesn’t apply anywhere else in the conference …
And the Pac-12 slapping them with a forfeit.
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